As I write this month's column, I hold in my hands the sword that slew the mighty Infocom.

Okay, technically it's not in my hands, that'd make typing pretty hard. But it's right on the desk in front of me.

I'm referring, of course, to Cornerstone, the infamous "sophisticated database system for the non-programmer" whose years of development and subsequent spectacular belly-flop in the PC market essentially bankrupted Infocom.

Wanna see it? Now you can. This is just one of the many items from my own personal collection of adventure game memorabilia to be featured on their own pages, complete with scans. You can also view such rarities as the earliest Sierra Hi-Res adventures, the Sentient Software version of Oo-Topos by Michael Berlyn, and some Infocom package variations you might not have known existed. Check them out by clicking on the links that now appear on the vault page.


Thar Be The Great White Scale!

Isn't deciphering other people's package descriptions and ratings a royal pain? What's the real difference between "good", "good plus", and "good plus plus"? Is "mint" the same as "pristine", and if not, which is better? Don't you hate it when you buy a "mint" game from someone, only to discover it's not even close? And doesn't it suck when you buy an Infidel grey box, "in great shape", and it is... but the props inside look like a mouse has been chewing on them?

Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe is pleased to announce the Official MobyGames Software Collectables Condition Grading Scale (aka the "MobyScale"). Jim Leonard of MobyGames.com has been working closely with other collectors, including myself, to develop this easy-to-use system to eliminate the problems illustrated above. Given enough exposure, it will hopefully become the software collecting hobby's standard system for grading the condition of packages.

I have chosen to adopt this system because (1) it's both logical and easy to understand, (2) it makes it easier for Shoppers to compare one package to another, and (3) to encourage the hobby as a whole to adopt it (informally) as a standard scale, because quite frankly we need one. As of this update, the MobyScale is now in place on the YOIS for-sale pages. A future update will see it added to my personal collection list.

Jim also maintains the Software Collectibles Mailing List. To join it, send e-mail to minordomo@oldskool.org, with "subscribe swcollect" as the subject. Please note, this list is primarily for the discussion of topics relevant to the software collecting community. It is not a place to sell or trade games.


Mr Lee's Funtabulous World of Science!!!

Our resident scientific guy, Stephen Lee, has been experimenting with a procedure to restore faded InvisiClues booklets, but he could use our help. Stephen writes:

"Experimentation with unfading Invisiclues has yielded a promising lead. However, I'll need to have several faded booklets to optimize the process. After I destroyed one booklet last night, it occurred to me that it would probably be a good idea to experiment on faded booklets that are NOT collector's items (oops).

"I found that concentrated hydrochloric acid will make faded parts (even completely faded parts) unfade. Dilute hydrochloric acid, and other acids like phosphoric acid and vinegar, do not seem to have any unfading action. This will cause all the yellow color of the developing fluid to leach out (the weaker acids also have this effect) and will turn the answer sections an icky-looking (but very readable) purplish-brown color. (Strong bases will rapidly damage the booklet, so don't even think about these. I also had an assorted variety of other chemicals on the experimentation list but nixed them after good old acid proved promising.)

"The next steps are to: (1) figure out the ideal concentration of acid and exposure time that would strike an ideal balance between unfading and not damaging the pages -- concentrated acid does damage the pages given prolonged exposure, which isn't exactly a surprise. (2) Since this acid is normally used as a liquid, I'll need to figure out a way to prevent any sort of water damage to the book. I have a couple ideas but I haven't yet tried them. (3) It's probably also a good idea to neutralize any residual acid with some sort of buffered neutral solution. (4) It would also be good to investigate the effect of any treatment on sections that have not been developed at all -- it's possible such treatments may render them undevelopable."

If anyone out there has any non-collectible invisible-ink books (I seem to recall children's activity books like this) and would like to further the cause of science, please get in touch with Stephen. The theories of other scientific minds are also welcome. Let's get that Nobel for chemistry!

(Stephen also has a large number of Infocom greys for sale, if anyone needs any.)


Return to Scott Adams

I'm weeks late with this announcement, but just in case some of you have not yet heard, Scott Adams (The Scott Adams, not the guy who does Dilbert) has recently released Return to Pirate's Island 2.

This is an update of the original (and exceptionally rare) Return to Pirate's Isle text game, #14 in the Scott Adams Adventure Series. It remains all-text, but has a lot of enhancements over the old two-word format, such as a windowed interface, sound effects, and a full-sentence parser.

The cost is $19.95 (Scott takes PayPal), and provides you with a web download. Sorry, collectors, no packaging. Visit Scott's homepage to get full info.


New Zork, New Zork

Activision has released yet another compilation of Infocom games, called Zork Classics, making... what, ten now? (Lost Treasures I and II, the Zork Anthology, the five themed Collections, and the Masterpieces of Infocom.) This latest one collects all of the fantasy text adventures set in the Zork universe: the three original Zork games, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, the Enchanter trilogy, and Wishbringer. Like the Masterpieces set, it's essentially just a box and CD-ROM, with scans of the original documentation and props.

I haven't seen it in my area stores yet, but it's currently available for $19.95 through Amazon.com. My advice as a collector: Pick up five or six copies. We've all seen how high the Masterpieces have gone on eBay.

Oh, and package variation fans: Check out the re-release of Zork Nemesis that's currently being sold.


Quickies

Courtesy of Mia Chikamori: "I'd thought I'd warn you about something I encountered while updating my Infocom inventory -- the Lurking Horror centipede is out for revenge! I found that the centipede emits certain oils which can cause grease stains as if you were eating deep-fried foods. It can do this even through the protective plastic sheets that come with it. After I found my stained Atari disk, :( I wrapped mine up in wax paper. Funny, I have two copies of Lurking Horror, but only one centipede got oily." Thanks for the heads-up, Mia... I've also seen this behavior from the sticky part of the Enchanter folio's rubber seal.

Adventureland, the Internet's primary database for interactive fiction and other adventure games, has moved to the I-F Legends server. Hans Persson has retired as its maintainer, passing the duty on to Stefan Meier, who also maintains the Magnetic Scrolls Memorial. No need to change your bookmarks, as Hans is keeping a mirrored copy at the original site. We'll miss you Hans, you did a great job.

Good news for Shoppers outside the U.S.: PayPal, the web's most widely- recognized credit-card service, now supports international transactions in 26 different countries. Buyers in these countries can now pay YOIS with a credit card! This means you can pay faster and get your stuff faster. At the moment it doesn't look like PayPal's "$5 credit for signing up" applies to international accounts, but anyone in the U.S. who hasn't yet registered can still qualify.

I also wanted to share a great non-game related web service I've found with my fellow software fans. Guidescope is a free program that blocks those awful flashing banner advertisements that appear at the top of every website except for YOIS. You configure your browser to connect to the web through Guidescope's proxy server, which then filters the ads. Very useful if you're trying to read a page but keep getting distracted by the ads, plus it makes surfing faster since you don't have to wait for them to download. I use it myself, and it's absolutely free: No fees (and no plans to start charging any), no registration forms to fill out, no harvesting of personal info, absolutely nothing. Check it out!


New This Update

Extensive Shoppe downtime equals extensive update, and I'm quite certain this is the largest one to date. In addition to the MobyScale and vault pictures, the Shoppe stock has practically doubled in size. Infocom greys, folios, truckloads of hint books for various games (many of these are rarer than the games themselves), Ultimas, both complete and incomplete, and lots of spare parts. Have fun digging through it all.

I should probably also mention the new for-sale list layout. In the past, all games were listed on one page, but I've recently received a significant number of requests that I break them up somehow, so they load a little faster and work better with older browsers. Since the full list is now several times its original size, and games have been organized haphazardly by company for some time, I decided it was time for a change. The current structure mirrors the way I determine which games do and don't belong in my own personal collection. Games for sale are split across the following three categories:

  1. Infocom games. Just like it sounds. Anything published by Infocom goes here, as well as the Activision repackagings (such as Lost Treasures and Masterpieces) and spinoffs (Return to Zork, et al). Also includes any books by Infocom authors, or game books with solutions to Infocom games.
  2. Non-Infocom I-F games. "Interactive fiction" games by companies other than Infocom. "I-F" is a rather vague term, subject to debate, but for my intents and purposes it refers to any game that:

    • ...relies heavily on descriptive text output (not necessarily text input, i.e. typing) as part of gameplay.
    • ...is not pure RPG, unless the game relies primarily on text input in addition to the RPG elements.

    This definition encompasses:

    • All-text adventures as well as "text adventures with graphics".
    • Point-and-click adventure games that make extensive use of text output (for example the ICOM Simulations titles -- Deja Vu, Shadowgate, Uninvited).
    • Role-playing games that use typed commands for movement (for instance Chameleon Software's Stone of Sisyphus, or Infocom's Quarterstaff if it weren't already covered by the Infocom category).
    • "Life simulation" titles such as Activision's Alter Ego.
    • "Eliza"-type games such as Mindscape's Racter.
    • Any "collection" (multiple games in one package) containing one or more of these types of games.
    • Construction-kit tools used to create one of these types of games.
    • Official hint books for any games that fall here, as well as any multi-game solution books that contain hints for them (unless they also contain Infocom solves, in which case they will be under the Infocom category).

    This definition excludes:

    • RPG games such as Wasteland, Bard's Tale, etc., that use single-character commands for entering input. (Note that "typing" is not the same thing as "using the keyboard".) Some RPG games employ a conversation system wherein the player types a word or words to ask another character about a certain subject. Again, I count this as I-F only if the rest of the gameplay primarily utilizes text input as well.
    • Graphic adventures such as Maniac Mansion and King's Quest V (although King's Quest I - IV would be included), where character dialogue but no other descriptive text is displayed on-screen.
    • Very early games that use "graphics" formed with text (ASCII characters).
  3. Non-IF games. Anything that doesn't fit into the above two categories. More recent graphic adventures, Ultima games, RPGs, other genres.
This is all outlined in the FAQ, but I decided to reprint it here as well, as I've long suspected nobody reads the FAQ anyway. B-)

Why this update took so long:

Lots of things contributed to the lengthy delay here. First off, I was gone-slash-unavailable for two non-consecutive weeks in September, which is what prompted me to shut down the Shoppe in the first place. That way, I figured, when I got back and was ready to actually work on updating the Shoppe, I wouldn't be swamped with requests (and it worked well too, you may see me doing this again in the future).

Second, I decided for this update I was finally going to scan some of my rare stuff. Which meant I had to go through my collection, decide what to show off, sit down and scan it, write a little text for each one, and design a page template that could be easily modified for each item.

Third, I was bound and determined to get my list of Infocom stuff up on the vault page. Which meant I had to organize that, which meant digging through my treasure chests (literally, I keep my Infocom greys stored in chests), noting which ones I had in and out of shrinkwrap, what systems they were for, and building that list.

What number are we on... Four, the MobyScale. God the MobyScale. I'll put it this way: Imagine you had between 500 and 600 games. Now imagine that you had to go through them (in your spare time, you have a day job) and look at each and every one of them to determine (A) whether they're 100% complete (including little dinky things like registration cards), (B) how much wear and/or damage they have in relation to all the other packages you currently have lying around, and (C) what MobyScale rating you should assign to them based on (A) and (B). NOW imagine that you had to type all that up, and deal with items coming into the Shoppe, AND implement the revisions the Scale was undergoing at the same time. Word to the wise: If you feel like voicing a complaint about the new Shoppe layout, the MobyScale is not the subject to attack. B-)

All this plus the normal, everyday stuff I do when I update: Add and remove sold items, check the waiting list to see if anyone has put in a request for any of the new stuff, etc.

In fact, the one thing that didn't delay this update was people bugging me about do-you-have-this-game and when-will-you-be-ready. I'd like to sincerely express my thanks for everyone's patience over the last couple of months while I essentially rebuilt the site from the ground up. As long time Shoppe visitors know (or ought to know), one of my personal peeves is when someone sends me a "WHY HAVEN'T YOU REPLIED?!" type of e-mail, or resends the same message twice, thinking it got "lost" the first time because I didn't respond within a day. Just this month I got pissed off at no fewer than three people for this behavior, but I'm pleased to say that none of them were Shoppe-related.

As a result, I'd like to announce the first-ever Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe "Thanks for Not Pissing Me Off" Special -- to show you that I do notice and appreciate patience, I'll cover the shipping costs on all sales, and pay both ways on all trades. This means free Priority Mail for all U.S. buyers, free air-mail for everyone else. I'll throw in insurance and delivery confirmation too, if you'd like it. All you have to do is mention the YOIS "Thanks for Not Pissing Me Off" Special when ordering. This offer is good until the next major Shoppe update, or until somebody does piss me off and ruins it for everyone else.

For the next update, I'll try to showcase some pics of myself and other collectors. If anybody has photos they'd like posted, go ahead and send them along. Possibly a trading board as well, and I'd really like to find a way to implement a shopping cart. If you'd like to see something else, fill out the Shoppe survey and let me know.

Oh, and if anybody can tell me where I can get a TrueType font like the one used in the letters of the Infocom logo, you'd be doing me a huge favor. (Or even if you just know the name of it, that'd be great.)

Thanks again for your patience during the massive overhaul. I'll try to have minor updates (for-sale and waiting list) more often. (I know, I always say that. B-)

God, it's great to be back!


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